The Dallas Cowboys were down seven points with six seconds to go in the second NFC Divisional Round playoff game on Sunday night. They needed a miracle to go 76 yards to tie the game and send it to overtime. With a berth in the NFC Championship Game, against their archrival Philadelphia Eagles no less, on the line, let’s break down the final play of Dallas’ season.
What did Mike McCarthy and Kellen Moore draw up for quarterback Dak Prescott? Well, it’s a complicated play so please try and stick with me here as we Grind The Tape.
In what many might consider a “tough start,” the view from the camera at the snap of the ball still leaves over 55 yards of the field un-shown. Keep in mind...those ARE yards that the Cowboys will need to gain if they want to get in the endzone and score a touchdown so they can then attempt an extra point with a kicker who can’t make those just to tie the game and send it to OT.
Dallas is set up in an admittedly unorthodox formation, but desperate times call for desperate measures, right? The 49ers are sitting deep in a 1-10 defense, which I believe Buddy Ryan came up with one time while tripping on mushrooms.
The ‘Boys give Prescott a nice pocket to work out of and he has plenty of time to find his receiver running down the field unguarded. Now, the Dallas drive had started at their own 5-yard line only 40 seconds prior to this play, so you know they had been moving the ball quickly and well. Tight end Dalton Schultz had been Prescott’s favorite target, so it was a bit of a surprise when Prescott looked KaVontae Turpin’s way on the final play.
Turpin, who hadn’t recorded a catch in the previous 59:56 of the game, ran an 8-yard hitch which, when completed, left Dallas a mere 68 yards short of the goal line. Luckily, seven Dallas players were completely out of the way on the other side of the field from Turpin so he’d have plenty of green space to run into, unencumbered by players he needed to run around.
In fact, even the three players on Turpin’s side of the field stayed far away from him so he could focus on catching the ball and then “making a play in space” which is something I’m told all offensive coordinators love for their playmakers to do.
After making the catch, with his hands away from his body to meet the ball just like he was taught, Turpin secures the ball even as he is absolutely de-cleated by one of the three 49ers defenders that was closer to him than a teammate. Solid fundamentals from Turpin to complete the process of the catch so that there is not a controversy surrounding this crucial final play of the season.
Despite ending up at his own 30-yard line, 70 yards away from the game-tying touchdown, Turpin’s forward progress got him all the way up to his own 32-yeard line, which is only 68 yards from the endzone. That’s just a short Dak Prescott bomb away from six points!
However, if you double check the score bug at the bottom of the screen you’ll see that the game clock is now one second away from expiring and the ball, the very ball that Dallas needs to cross the goal line, is 71 yards away from paydirt while Dallas’s score is still seven points fewer than San Francisco’s score.
Despite a well-designed and well-executed final play that got Dallas 11% (if you round up) of the way to their desired destination, the Cowboys came up a bit short. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to a defense that went out there and made a play that was probably easier than any of the other plays they had made in their entire football playing career.
Football is a game of inches, as all of the greats say, and the Cowboys were only 2,448 of them away from maybe tying the game if their poor kicker was able to actually make an extra point.